Friday, January 13, 2012
|Unknown artist, c. 1665-1670|
Notice that Rochester, all cool dignity, is holding the implements
of his poetic achievement in one hand, while he shows his real feelings
about hipster acclaim by crowning his pet monkey with the laurels of literary greatness.
Meanwhile, the monkey, well... everyone's a critic.
This week I introduced my students to the key ideas in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century theatre with a picture of the Earl of Rochester (pattern for all rakes) that I've subtitled, "Everybody's got something to hide, 'cept for me and my monkey."
I think they really enjoyed our little foray into the life, poetry and portraiture of Rochester, kidnapper of brides and gynecological masquerader (apparently he spent some time under the name Dr. Bendo, charismatic quack specialist in women's complaints). Except for the quarter of the class who tried to tamp down increasingly urgent expressions of alarm and disgust.
Excerpts from our conversation:
I: "So what is the difference between a a rake and a fop, really? Do you see a difference between this portrait of Colley Cibber as Lord Foppington and this picture of the Earl of Rochester?"
|Colley Cibber as Lord Foppington |
in Vanbrugh's The Relapse
(John Simon after Giuseppe Grisoni, c. 1700-1725)
Those sleeves are trying way too hard.
Students: "Rochester is dressed less elaborately."
"He seems more relaxed."
"Yeah, there's a confidence about Rochester."
"Lord Foppington just looks so stiff and false."
I: "Right. you can see it in the eyes, the body language. Rakes are, to use a sophisticated piece of academic jargon, cool. Fops *want* to be cool. Rochester's got it going on, Foppington's trying too hard to get it. Rochester's invested in the pose of devil-may-care effortlessness (see the "toga" above), Foppington's all obvious artifice."
There followed a not altogether brief discussion of the perfection of Johnny Depp's casting as Rochester.
I may also have referred to A School for Scandal as "The Gossip Girl of the Eighteenth Century." I'm not ashamed. (Mostly.)